President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ), Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, together with members of the SLAJ/NDI-Combating Disinformation project team, undertook a significant community engagement initiative, visiting two prominent Attaya Bases in Freetown—Lumley Car Park Ataya Base in the far west and Maxwell Street Ataya Base in Wellington in the far east late last month.
The visit was a crucial component of the Combating Disinformation in Sierra Leone’s 2023 electoral cycle project, supported by the National Democratic Institute and funded by Global Affairs Canada. The project aims to leverage social structures at the community level to actively combat disinformation.
Engaging in meaningful dialogue on countering disinformation, Nasralla encouraged open discussions about the challenges in the information space, fostering a collective commitment to truthful information dissemination. The campaign not only raised awareness but also aimed to cultivate a discerning and informed society capable of countering disinformation effectively.
In his address to approximately 25 young individuals, predominantly men, at the Lumley Ataya Base, Nasralla introduced the Combating Disinformation Project. He shed light on the team’s efforts leading up to and during the country’s June 2023 General elections. Nasralla provided practical examples of the dangers of misinformation, citing incidents that resulted in unrest and loss of lives in areas such as Tombo, Makeni, and Freetown on August 10.
To empower the community members, Nasralla introduced trusted news and information sources that could be used to verify information received from various channels, including social media.
In response, Pa Brima, Chairman of the Attaya Base, expressed gratitude to the SLAJ President and his team. He pledged to disseminate the information within their community, ensuring that those not present would also benefit.
“We are truly grateful to SLAJ for this eye-opening visit. The discussions have enlightened us, and we pledge to share this valuable knowledge with our community members who are not present. This is what we want to see from our leaders, coming down to our level to engage us occasionally. I have been seeing the SLAJ President on TV and hearing him talk on the radio, I am happy to see and meet with him in person today,” Pa Brima said.
Sulaiman Conteh encouraged the team to do such engagement more often since the issues discussed are critical and different categories of people come to the Attaya base at different times of the day.
“The Combating Disinformation Project is a game-changer for us. The examples given by the SLAJ President are very true, this will make us more aware of the dangers of disinformation. This visit has been an enlightening experience and we appreciate the effort to educate our community,” Conteh said.
The engagement concluded with a lively question-and-answer session.
Continuing his efforts, Nasralla replicated the activity at Maxwell Ataya Base in the east end of Freetown. Emphasizing the importance of countering disinformation, Nasralla encouraged questions from the attendees. One participant raised concern about disinformation on traditional media, highlighting that misinformation extends beyond social media platforms.
During our visit, Adama Sesay, the only lady present at the Maxwell Ataya Base, noted, “As someone who relies heavily on social media, I’ve often fallen victim to misleading information. The SLAJ President’s guidance on verifying sources is invaluable. We’ve learned a lot today and we’ll ensure this knowledge spreads within our community.”
Nasralla reiterated that combating disinformation requires vigilance across all media channels. The Maxwell Ataya Base Chairman acknowledged Nasralla’s visit and affirmed the dissemination of information to those absent during the engagement.
These community engagements aimed not only to raise awareness but also to empower communities to discern and counter misinformation effectively.